What An Amazing Journey We\’ve Had: 50 Years Since John Glenn First Orbited Earth

By Anne Holmes
NABBW’s Baby Boomer Expert

“Space.The final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise…”

I\’ve always loved the Gene Roddenberry-inspired Star Trek TV shows and movies. They\’re a fun diversion and often pose real-life moral dilemmas that really make you think. But space exploration is more than science fiction. I was amazedto realize this week, that in real life, it has been 50 years since John Glenn became the first American to orbit the earth.

Where has the time gone?

I was in grade school when Glenn climbed aboard Friendship 7, and our school principal decided this was too big an event to not be used as a teaching moment. He assembled everyone into the gym, where we sat on the floor in class groupings watching a couple of 20-inch black and white TVs (what else was there in 1962) which had been mounted on tall stands in order to enhance our group viewing ability.

Though we were spellbound, I doubt we were savvy enough to realize just what a huge moment for mankind and technology we were witnessing.Cramped into a tiny capsule, he circled the earth three times in five hours. His effort paved the way for the United States to become a space power.

Today, space exploration has come so far that Glenn\’s then-daring feat would today be considered “just” an earth orbit. And it\’s important to realize that Neil Armstrong\’s first moon footstep happened a mere seven years later. Clear proof of what we as a country can accomplish when we actually work together. I wish today\’s politicians would take note of that. But I digress.

Instead, let me fast forward just three decades — and my brain almost reels at the changes:

In 1992 NASA launched the shuttle Endeavor, their fifth and final space-worthy shuttle and the United Nations dubbed it “International Space Year.” If you\’ve forgotten about that, I understand. A lot of other “big stuff” was going on back then. Just to scratch the surface:

  • Bill Clinton was elected president of the United States
  • Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston were lighting up the screen in “The Bodyguard”
  • Musically we were being entertained by Michael Jackson, Pearl Jam, U2, The Cure, Kiss, Genesis, Mariah Carey, Bon Jovi, Eric Clapton, DefLeppard – and Toad the Wet Sprocket
  • The first nicotine patch was introduced to help stop smoking
  • DNA fingerprinting was invented
  • Minnesota\’s Mall of America, the largest Mall in America is constructed (78 acres)
  • McDonald\’s opened their first burger joint in China
  • TWA declared bankruptcy
  • Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida
  • Euro Disney opened in France
  • Prince Charles and Princess Diana separated
  • Home Improvement, Matlock, L.A. Law and Married…With Children were popular US TV shows, as was Roddenberry\’s Star Trek: The Next Generation with Patrick Stewart, a self-described “middle-aged bald English Shakespearean actor”at the helm. Personally, I think he was a perfect choice for “Captain Jean-Luc Picard“. Who else could manage the ship while calmly ordering up “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” the way he did?

And on a more personal level, in 1992 I was 40. A college graduate, twice married, full-time working mom with two kids in middle school. And it was the first year my son attended Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, where kids have a chance to do “astronautical things,” including a simulated space mission.

I talked to him about it earlier this week, after being reminded of his experience while watching the recent Hallmark television movie, A Smile As Big as the Moon. Among other things, he fondly recalled that he served as “Payload Officer” during his group\’s mission. Which, ironically, brings me back to John Glenn, who served as the last American payload specialist.

My son\’s Space Camp experiences sparked an interest in science and engineering as a potential career (Prior to that, he\’d been more interested in becoming a rock star – and I don\’t mean a geologist). The Space Camp experience fueled his brain in ways that traditional education methods just can\’t.

Which is all the more reason to be saddened that the United States is not currently in the space business. I think this is a huge mistake on the part of our government, and I hope it changes soon.

Where were you when John Glenn took that historic flight? What impact did it have on your life? Can you imagine what it would have been like to be him — or even to be one of his children? What a scary and exciting moment in time that must have been!

As "Boomer in Chief" of the National Association of Baby Boomer Women, Anne is passionate about educating, empowering and enriching the lives of women in their middle years. Actively involved with a number of Boomer-focused organizations and committees, she keeps a steady finger on the pulse of this spirited generation, with the goal of helping you to enjoy life, stay healthy and live lives that are rich in every sense of the word. Anne is often interviewed by the media and in addition to writing on behalf of the NABBW, she publishes www.BoomerWomensWorld.com and blogs at www.BoomerLifestyle.com